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"When I go about among little Nebraska towns, the thing I miss most is the Opera House." --Willa Cather, Personal Interview
Click here to view the Susan Rosowski interview, "Opera's Vibrancy in Red Cloud"
Built in 1885, the Red Cloud Opera House figured prominently in the life of author Willa Cather, who grew up in Red Cloud. It is now the home to the Willa Cather Foundation offices, Gallery, Cather Bookstore, and Auditorium.
The newly renovated Red Cloud Opera House auditorium transports visitors back in time to set the mood, scene, and tone of the 1890s, when Willa Cather and her friends eagerly anticipated the arrival of traveling productions such as The Bohemian Girl and The Mikado. As Cather herself put it, "Only real people speaking the lines can give us that feeling of living along with them, of participating in their existence."
In Willa Cather's day, performers signed the backstage wall - a tradition that continues today. Willa Cather delivered her high school graduation address from the Red Cloud Opera House stage in 1890.
A full schedule of performances once again animates the Red Cloud Opera House Auditorium, and a new generation of visitors to the Opera House can appreciate "real people speaking the lines."
Many individuals and organizations support the Red Cloud Opera House in various ways, including more than 60 volunteers who act as ushers, bartenders, hosts, and much more.
The Red Cloud Opera House auditorium, gallery, meeting room, and kitchenette may be reserved for meetings, weddings, receptions, holiday parties, and other private functions. Browse our fee schedule. Reservations must be made at the Willa Cather Foundation.
Willa Cather Speaking About The Opera House
These excerpts are from a letter Willa Cather wrote in the Diamond Jubilee edition of the Omaha World-Herald on October 27, 1929. It was later re-published in the Red Cloud Chief:
"When I go about among little Nebraska towns, the thing I miss most is the Opera House. A traveling stock company settled down at the local hotel and thrilled and entertained us for a week."
"That was a wonderful week for children. The excitement began when the advance man came to town and posted the bills on the side of a barn, on the lumberyard fence, in the 'plate glass' windows of drug stores and grocery stores. My playmates and I used to stand for an hour after school, studying every word of those posters; the names of the plays and the nights on which each would be given. After we had decided which were the most necessary to us, there was always the question of how far we could prevail upon our parents. Would they let us go every night, or only on opening and closing nights?"
"How good some of those old traveling companies were, and how honestly they did their work and tried to put on a creditable performance. There was the Andrews Opera Company, for example; they usually had a good voice or two among them, a small orchestra and a painstaking conductor, who was also the pianist. What good luck for a country child to hear those tuneful old operas sung by people who were doing their best: The Bohemian Girl, The Chimes of Normandy, Martha, The Mikado. Nothing takes hold of a child like living people."
"But I am sorry that the old Opera Houses in the prairie towns are dark, because they really did give a deeper thrill, at least to the children. It did us good to weep at East Lynne, even if the actress was fairly bad and the play absurd. Children have about a hundred years of unlived life wound up in them, and they want to be living some of it. Only real people speaking the lines can give us that feeling of living along with them, of participating in their existence. The poorest of the old road companies were at least made up of people who wanted to be actors and tried to be--that alone goes a long way. The very poorest of all were Uncle Tom's Cabin companies, but even they had living bloodhounds. How the barking of these dogs behind the scenes used to make us catch our breath! That alone was worth the price of admission, as the star used to say, when he came before the curtain."
..Very Cordially Yours,